Obama Campaign Veterans Invited to Interview Obama on Air Force One in All-Black Selma Session

Obama Selma Air Force One Valerie Jarrett
Grantland Photo by Valerie Jarrett

The Obama administration invited five Black reporters and columnists to fly on Air Force One for Saturday’s trip to Selma, Alabama so they could participate in an exclusive all-Black interview session with America’s first Black president before he spoke at the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Obama also did a Selma interview with white CBS News reporter Bill Plante.)

One of those invited, Rembert Browne with ESPN’s Grantland, said in his report about the interview that he was a 2008 Obama campaign volunteer and a failed job applicant with Obama’s reelection campaign.

The other Obama campaign veteran, Zerlina Maxwell with Essence, also worked with Obama’s State Department to help Palestinians use the Internet for ”social change.”

A 2011 State Department article mentioned Maxwell’s work with the Obama campaign:

“A self-proclaimed “political junkie,” Maxwell campaigned actively for President Obama in 2008. She said a major part of Obama’s campaign strategy was using social network sites to organize volunteers and reach potential voters.”

Given the lede for Browne’s report, “I couldn’t sleep for (profanity edited)” it is understandable why he didn’t make the cut as an Obama campaign blogger.

But what is not understandable is why the Obama press office invited Obama campaign veterans masquerading as journalists to an exclusive group interview with reporters and columnists.

Others in the group were White House veteran reporter April Ryan with American Urban Radio Networks , columnist DeWayne Wickham with USA Today and columnist Charles M. Blow with the New York Times.

April Ryan is also the author of a new book on her years covering the White House, The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America.

Browne noted the Black reporters were greeted by Black Obama senior staffers Valerie Jarrett and Susan Rice, the National Security Adviser. In an indication of how cozy the media session was, Jarrett took photos of the session that were published with Browne’s and Ryan’s articles.

Obama Selma April Ryan
April Ryan presents a question to President Obama during a reporter’s roundtable aboard Air Force One. Photo: Valerie Jarrett

Unnoted by Ryan in her caption of the photo is an Obama staffer standing over Maxwell apparently reading her notes and computer screen.

Browne wrote at Grantland of his “chasing” Obama for over a decade:

“I’ve been chasing Barack Obama for more than a decade. I watched his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention while deep in the throes of college application essays. It was a speech that I needed to hear, a speech that felt as if it were specifically for me. Before I knew it, I was working on Capitol Hill in 2007 as a college intern for Senator Ted Kennedy, where I would occasionally catch a glimpse of the then-Senator Obama traveling on the underground monorail from the Senate to the Capitol floor. I reveled in the excitement when he announced his presidency that February. I volunteered for that campaign in 2008 in New Hampshire, taking to the streets of New England with a megaphone following his victory, and hoping to one day be a part of his actual staff. In 2011, looking for a way out of graduate school, I applied for a job as a blogger in his reelection campaign — and I almost got that job, before then not getting that job.

“My current job — the second attempt to drop out of graduate school — is a result of not getting a job with the Obama campaign. Living in New York is a result of not getting a job with the Obama administration. And my slow crawl away from politics and toward writing is a direct result of chasing — and never quite catching — the world that surrounds President Obama. The chase has felt never-ending. But in a way, I owe everything to the chase.”

Each reporter was allowed one question with Obama in the thirty-minute session that came as Air Force One was nearing Selma. Browne’s query posed two questions: Does Obama refrain from acting or speaking his mind on controversial issues like race and homosexuality, and would Obama recommend people getting in to politics. But first Browne had to gush a little.

“Mr. President, so since you were — since I was in college, which is when you were elected, I’ve watched everything you’ve had to go through — jumping through hoops, going over hurdles, everything. And there’s been a common notion amongst my peers — peers who were very interested in getting into politics, being politicians, even that — this idea of if Barack Obama can’t say or do what we think he wants to say or do as President, then could any of us ever do that if we get into politics, be it about Ferguson, about gay rights — any of these things where we feel we know what he wants to say, but he can’t really do it at that moment.

“Is that a sentiment that you are commonly aware of? And does it at all inform kind of how you want to wrap up your presidency? And I guess if you were trying to advise someone in this climate that wanted to make some change or have an immediate impact, would you advise them into getting into politics?”

Obama gave a safe answer about being president of all the people. Left unchallenged by Browne was that it was recently revealed that Obama had lied about his support for same-sex marriage when he campaigned in 2008.

Zerlina Maxwell’s report for Essence makes no mention of her role with the Obama campaign, nor does Essence in the brief bio tagged at the end of the article.

Charles M. Blow barely mentioned the interview session in his column on his trip to Selma published Monday.

DeWayne Wickham’s USA Today column on the trip to Selma revealed his own Obama biases (in support and criticism):

Wickham is also Dean of Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication.

April Ryan wrote about the trip to Selma at her site, AprilRyan.com. Ryan’s question to Obama got him to expound on how he thinks of his presidency in terms of what Ryan termed a “marker as a new era in civil rights being called Post-Obama.”

It’s a shame the Obama administration cynically stacked the deck with a couple campaign veterans (no reporter/columnist would turn down the invitation). Each report tells a story from a historic day with a historic president.

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